Small Numbers’ is something that Maruti is just not accustomed to India. Largest carmaker sells over 1.2 million cars a year and its best-selling Alto finds over 25,000 buyers in India every month. So it felt a bit strange to see the top brass of Maruti get excited at the prospect of selling a couple of hundred Kizashis every month, which at best is less than 0.05 percent of the company’s sales. But for Maruti, the all-new Suzuki Kizashi isn’t about numbers. The company is banking on its new flagship to take the brand up the luxury scale to rub fenders with Honda, Toyota, Skoda and VW. It’s ironic that though Maruti outsells all these brands combined with just one model, it hankers for the image these global names enjoy. It’s an old story actually. Maruti first tried to go luxury with the Grand Vitara but failed miserably. The Suzuki Suv just didn’t have enough street credibility, and the lack of a diesel motor, so essential for the Suv segment, didn’t help. Vitara sales have fallen to a shockingly low single digit every month which effectively means it’s vanished without a trace. However, Maruti is confident that the Kizashi will fare better. For starters. It’s a saloon and that automatically gives it a more premium image. Again, the Kizashi comes with a single petrol engine and no diesel, but in the premium saloon car category, a diesel isn’t as essential as it is for Suvs.
Maruti’s confidence also stems from the fact that the Kizashi is undoubtedly the best Suzuki yet and a car that the company, better known for its small cars, can be proud of. Not many know that Suzuki’s earlier forays into the luxury car segment abroad were half-hearted attempts with cars like the Verona which was essentially a Daewoo with a Suzuki badge. This time round, Suzuki has gone all out to make its flagship genuinely appealing, benchmarking it against the best from Europe and Japan. But how this newcomer fares against established rivals will be the real litmus test.
The first time you set your eyes on the Kizashi, it’s unmistakably a Suzuki. That familiar grille and long pair of lights makes you think it’s a pumped up SX4 and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Too much of a family look and resemblance to a mass market sibling may prompt prospective buyers to turn up their noses. But on closer examination, the styling is actually quite appealing. There’s a European-ness to the Kizashi’s taut shape. The tightly skinned body and flared wheel arches give it a sporty stance. But what really gives the Kizashi an aggressive, well-planted look are the massive 17-inch wheels, which look a touch oversized for the dimensions of the car.
The sinuous looks are carried over to the rear as well. The beefy rear haunches flow into the bumper and the twin exhausts exit through triangular chrome surrounds, displaying a lot of character. The spoiler lip and 7-series-like lights look superb. However, the Kizashi’s taut lines highlight its compact dimensions. In comparison to an Accord or superb, it looks and feels a class smaller.
That impression is confirmed once you step inside. Cabin space is more in the league of the Jetta than Passat and cars like the Accord and Superb feel like an indoor stadium in comparison. Legroom at the rear is better than you expect but the seat has a short squab so under-thigh support is compromised. The seat back is a touch upright too and the windows are a bit small. Also, the high transmission tunnel (to accommodate the drive shaft in the 4x4 version) seriously limits the scope for a middle passenger. What we liked is the solid base behind the front seats, with nets for storage, which felt like they belonged in a more expensive car. Move to the front and things get better. The high dashboard and window line give you a snug feeling and the driving position with a high set gear lever is quite sporty. The Kizashi comes with seat memory and full adjustment so it’s easy to get comfy. Moreover. The co-passengers gets a powered seat too.
Interior quality is a mixed bag. Some plastics have a nice and soft feel while some bits like the lower section of the dashboard look hard and unyielding and are not as finely textured as we would have liked. Also, anyone who has owned a Suzuki will easily spot some carry-over buttons that are shared with lesser cars like the SX4 and Swift. Is Suzuki taking parts sharing a bit too far? Except for these obvious bits, the dashboard design is pretty fresh with a V-shaped center console which is now a common theme in the latest Suzukis, including the all-new Swift.
The instrument dials have a nice retro look to them and the chrome accents that divide the dash look good too. Storage space is adequate with a medium-sized glovebox, a few cubby holes and door pockets large enough to accommodate a bottle. The 461-litre boot is again adequate and will hold a couple of large bags. There’s no stinting on equipment levels. You get everything like seat-belt pretensioner with load limiters, multireflector projector headlamps and keyless start is also standard.The Kizashi comes with just one engine option; the same 2.4litre, four-cylinder petrol that powers the Vitara. However, the Kizashi’s motor develops slightly more power and torque; figures of 176bhp and 22.45kgm put it on par with the Accord’s 2.4-litre motor which, on paper, promises good performance. You get two gearbox options, a 6-speed manual or a CVT automatic. Driving the CVT first was a bit of a letdown. The transmission felt a touch jerky and the ‘rubber band’ effect, when the revs rise faster than the road speed (typical of a CVT), caused quite a bit of droning. Since there are no fixed ratios in a CVT, the engine shoots to the heart of the rev band which in this case is nearly 6,000rpm. There are paddle shifters as well and manual operation is simulated by programming six ‘speeds’ in the transmission. The ratio selection isn’t good however with 1st good for 70kph, 2nd and 3rd are then stacked close together while there’s a big gap to the 4the preset speed. The CVT’s performance wasn’t impressive either and unless you really want the convenience of an auto, the manual gearbox is the better option.
The manual Kizashi felt more responsive and much quicker than the CVT version. The shift is positive but the throw is a bit long and it feels a bit too rubbery to be called slick. Low-end grunt is lacking and the Kizashi needs to be revved to perform. On the newly built highway to Mt. Abu outside Udaipur, the Kizashi cruised brilliantly feeling very relaxed at some serious three-digit speeds. However, if you want to up the pace, it’s best to shift a cog down before flexing your right foot. The good thing is that the engine spins quite happily to 6,500rpm and encourages you to visit the rev limiter. It’s a fairly smooth engine but gets a touch buzzy as the revs rise. Blunting the performance of the manual version to some extent could be the wide set ratios and overdrives which have been chosen in the interests of emission and economy. Also, there is noticeable amount of torque steer especially in first gear which we suspect is because Maruti engineers have raised the ground clearance by 15mm (140-155) which may have thrown the wheel geometry for a toss.
The first hint at the Kizashi’s sporting pretensions comes to light when you tackle a set of corners. The chassis has a certain agility that makes it a good driver’s car and the Kizashi turns into corners quite easily. The steering is quite quick too which makes the Kizashi change direction very aggressively; however, there’s a lack of consistency in the way the steering weighs up as well as a dead zone around the straight-ahead position which detracts from ultimate driving pleasure. Grip from the large 215/55 R17 tyres is fantastic and gives you the confidence to dig deep into corners.
The ride quality is the best bit about the Kizashi and the large tyres flatten most surfaces. Sharper edges can be heard but for the most part, the Kizashi simply coasts over bad roads, the suspension working silently. In fact for sheer ride comfort, this is one of the better saloons around.
Will Maruti succeed in positioning the Kizashi as a sporty saloon? It’s got all the right intentions from the styling, to the compact dimensions and driver-focussed cabin. It even drives like one to a large extent. Performance is not brilliant but good enough and the handling is quite enthusiastic. However, the concept of a sporty saloon is at best niche and buyers of car are more likely to want loads of luxury and a sumptuous backseat. Plus, the lack of a diesel engine will mean that Kizashi can only be a part player in this segment. But what could possibly limit the Kizashi most is price. The strong yen and import duties (the Kizashi will come fully built up from Japan) will mean a price that by Maruti standards isn’t the most competitive. Expect a price range of Rs 17-18 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) which is around the price of an Accord.
Maruti wants to make the Kizashi the best-selling luxury car in the country. That’s a pretty ambitious task which seems difficult to achieve on the strength of the product. However, given the sheer strength of the Maruti network and a new-found focus and energy to make its flagship a success, it’s something you can’t discount.